With all of this celebration, the 24th August passed without mention in secular media, and with barely a whisper in the Christian press. And yet this date marked the 350th anniversary of a remarkable day in the history of Christianity within and beyond England. The Great Ejection, the expulsion of over 2000 Puritan ministers from the Church of England following Charles II's restoration (and the passing of the Act of Uniformity) represented a seismic shift in the nature of Christian testimony at the time, and has left its mark ever since.
One is to be grateful, then, that Gary Brady (see his blog here) has undertaken a popular study of 'The Great Ejection', in this title recently published by Evangelical Press. Although a reader of the Puritans for a number of years, and having had some exposure to the Great Ejection, this book revealed to me just how little I really knew about the events of 1662 and following.
The book wisely begins with stories from the Great Ejection, which give a flavour of the tremendous shift that it represented for individuals and families. The description of Joseph Alleine's ejection, penned by his wife Theodosia, is incredibly moving, not least for the contrasting details of his taking supper before facing 'many scorns and scoffs from the justices and their associates' along with threats of hanging. Alleine's calmness in the face of such hostility is echoed throughout the book as being typical (although not universally so) of how the Purtians faced such hot persecution. Other examples follow, each painted with touching humans details, lending flesh and blood to the many homes and families rent asunder by the consequences of godly men following biblical principle.
The book, however, is not merely anecdotal. The wider historical background to the Great Ejection is provided, tracing its roots from Henry Tudor to the restoration of Charles II. This is a period of history which I've had cause to study, both personally and academically, and it is pleasing to find that Brady's synopsis touches on the main points of what happened during this incredible era in a way which is accessible to those who have no prior knowledge of it.
The historical notes become more pronounced as the ejection is handled in chapter 3, laying out for the reader the various religious parties extant in England at the time, as well as the acts of government which would ultimately lead to the events of 24th August. This material is very valuable as it untangles the complicated religious picture prior to 1662 and helps the reader to understand just how the Great Ejection happened.
Chapters 4 and 5 draw the reader into the event of the ejection itself, and judicious use is made of the diary of Samuel Pepys to give an objective sense of just how important this moment really was. These, for me, were among the finest chapters in the book, balancing anecdote with hard history in a way which makes the Great Ejection live in the mind. The historical notes are well struck, and the sympathetic handling of Charles II's position is indicative of the measured tone which characterises all of the history recorded here.
Chapter 6 traces the steps which would eventually lead to greater toleration, continuing the balanced approach outlined above. Brady shows that a spectrum of suffering was experienced by individuals during this period, and that persecution could be patchy and sporadic, rather than universal or concerted. The chapter which follows offers samples of the sermons preached by those who were to be ejected on the eve of their being relieved of their pastoral charges. Reading these tasters has inspired me to follow up on these sermons by reading The Banner of Truth's Puritan Paperback edition of these sermons.
Chapters 8 and 9 provide a who's who of those ejected, and these for me were the slowest-reading chapters of the book. One wonders if this material might more helpfully have been placed at the end of the volume as an appendix, but there is undoubted merit in surveying the names and stories of a wider body of those who were ejected (for those reading the text, a key to the abbreviations used in the biographical entries is found at the end of chapter 8, and it is helpful to locate this before reading the chapter itself).
The book concludes by highlighting some of the enduring lessons from the Great Ejection, practically applying the quiet heroism of those who suffered to our own lives today.
1662: The Great Ejection sets out in clear prose and small compass the background to the Great Ejection, and its profound effect on those who endured it. It is a book which brings home the full weight of this historical event in its original context, and in its application to our lives today. Highly recommended.